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Update: 'When in doubt: mainly catch up' - Mojo shoots itself in the foot with research that deems deaths after Mysteryland acceptable. 

Attention: text amended after legitimate comment that death toll was not properly reconstructed. 26-8-2020, 21:30. 

'The probability of becoming infected at outdoor events is undoubtedly sufficiently low. Additional measures that reduce the risk of infection do not seem necessary.' So says research firm Risis Ab, or, if we read the inscrutable logo a little better: 'Crisis Lab' by recognised scientists Ira Helsloot and Jelle Groenendaal. They base their belief on a literature review of the existing scientific understanding of the nature and severity of the coronavirus causing Sars-Covid-2, which has crippled the global economy.

The rather striking conclusion in these days of impending second waves, mouthpiece duty and - all in all - extraordinary uncertainty follows a study commissioned by MOJO, the Dutch monopolist in the events industry. An industry that is totally on hiatus and that may not last a second closed season. This, of course, raises questions. Questions that only scientists will be able to answer really well, and they seem to be too busy with real research at the moment to seriously scrutinise this study too.

WC duck

Such an investigation commissioned by someone with a strong interest in a particular outcome is of course suspicious from the outset. There are therefore - unfortunately - many reasons for this. 'Unfortunately', because I yearn for a study that proves conclusively that we can all go back into a theatre auditorium together, that we can sing loudly along to an outdoor concert again, and return home on a crowded train with the festival atmosphere still lingering among the steaming fellow passengers. And 'unfortunately', because I hate having to throw the research in the bin after thorough reading. After all, that Crisis Lab's work rattles is putting it very mildly. 

That starts with the methodology, or rather as early as the taking of the assignment. Indeed, if there is one thing that is certain at the moment, it is that nothing at all is certain. We have only known about the virus for a good six months and scientists still face new surprises every day about how it works. In all this uncertainty, governments and institutes like the RIVM sometimes make questionable decisions, such as allowing flies and advising against mouth masks, but anyone who claims to know for sure that things should be different is relying on air (sorry, Willem Engel).

No peer review

So, in such an uncertain time, do you take a commission as an ambitious scientific research firm to offer someone certainty? Helsloot et al did and found out that nothing is actually certain yet. But the client does not want that, so they looked for certainty and, due to time constraints, also had to rely on sources that are not peer reviewed. Sources, in other words, that fellow scientists have not yet looked at in detail, that may be methodologically rattling or biased. 

So for a search for certainty, you don't rely on that, yet over 60 of the 200 scientific citations are from unverified sources. That's a lot. 

Crisis Lab defends in a footnote: 'Limiting ourselves to peer-reviewed papers would mean that we would not be able to use much relevant and new information solely due to the fact that they have not yet gone through the often time-consuming process of peer-review.' 

So hasty, and not useful for an investigation that could lead to so much social unrest. After all, that's when you want absolute certainty? 


If only this error on page 7 had remained, but the story continues to page 85. 

Let's look at the arguments then.

Crisis Lab reports: 'Theoretically, it seems plausible that at outdoor events where people stand close together and (due to loud music) have to shout at each other, the risk of infection (via larger droplets) is higher. However, we have not been able to find any practical situation showing that such an event led to a corona outbreak. It should be noted that the festival season had not yet started in the Netherlands at the time of the outbreak either. However, there are also no known examples from abroad where it has been conclusively established that densely populated outdoor events have led to new outbreaks.'

So it says here that mass events have not been shown to be sources of infection. But so that's because there have been no mass events. And there haven't been any abroad either, so referring to that is very weird. 

Empty trains

Regarding public transport, a pretty big thing when it comes to traffic to and from a festival like Lowlands anyway, the scientists manage to say the following: 'Given the minimal number of infections that have taken place in public transport, we consider that chance to be limited.' That they follow up by saying that more research is needed is almost hilarious, if it were not so dangerous. After all, public transport currently carries almost no people. Trains and buses are empty, which has kept the risk of infection pretty low so far. What do researchers think about packed trains and buses to Mysteryland? 


About distancing, the drafters even twist the facts. They rely on a study that states that social distancing is not blissful, and thus argue that distancing at a festival is not necessary. When we turn to the text of the cited study, it says something quite different. 'Single thresholds for social distancing, such as the current 2-metre rule, over-simplify what is a complex transmission risk that is multifactorial. Social distancing is not a magic bullet to eliminate risk. A graded approach to physical distancing that reflects the individual setting, the indoor space and air condition, and other protective factors may be the best approach to reduce risk.'

It says, in proper Dutch: Single thresholds for social distancing, such as the current two-metre rule, oversimplify a contamination risk that depends on many more factors. Social distancing is not a panacea. A nuanced approach to spacing, based on individual cases, indoor space and air quality, and other protective measures, could be the best approach to reduce risk.'

So there it does NOT say that spacing is not necessary, but that spacing should not be considered without other measures. So here the scientists are doing deliberate deception, and that is not nice to read. 

10 dead at Mysteryland?

On pages 57 and 58, the researchers go all out. They are going to calculate the risk of death from Corona of festival-goers. Now, according to a rather complicated calculation scheme, this seems to be about the same risk as riding a motorbike, which in itself is a pretty hefty risk. They even cite a figure: one in ten thousand.

'For healthy people aged under 65 years, therefore, the risk of death after infected-
ting about 1 in 10,000 and thus their individual risk is higher than what we
would normally consider an acceptable risk in the sense that no safety
policy is more necessary. It is similar to the risk of being killed in traffic, though.
one (4 * 10 -5 ) and even living behind river dykes.'

1 in 10,000 is 10 times higher than is considered responsible in the Netherlands. And that is assuming a situation that has not yet been investigated: namely 100,000 sweaty, merrily swinging (literally and figuratively) visitors to a festival like Mysteryland, where 100,000 people attend. In an earlier version, I wrote that this would lead to 10 deaths, but so that is a slight exaggeration. That infections, and therefore deaths, will follow, the study does not rule out. It compares it to motorcycling. Mar one or two fatal infections, which this statistic reports as a risk, are thus calculable risk.

That would be the end of those festivals. 

Two weeks

But then again, you only live once and fuck granddad. By the way, they also do not mention the risk that an infection at a festival means for the people in the infected festival visitor's network, especially those with a higher age or weaker health. Or, well, they do mention it: 'In addition to the individual risk to the visitor of indoor events, it is of course also true that the event visitor may infect others with whom the infected visitor comes into contact. Again, however, this is no different from many other permitted activities. Theoretically, this risk can be reduced by addressing event visitors about their responsibility and asking them to limit social contact with other (vulnerable) people for 2 weeks after an event visit.'

So, if you are not among the 6 guaranteed Corona dead at Lowlands, do wait a fortnight before going to your friends' wedding. Nothing to worry about. 

With such a survey, I wouldn't peddle too much, if I were Mojo. 

Read it yourself?


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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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